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Milwaukee's Daily Magazine for Tuesday, July 22, 2014

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Ron Perlman and Charlie Hunnam star in "3, 2, 1...Frankie Go Boom."
Ron Perlman and Charlie Hunnam star in "3, 2, 1...Frankie Go Boom."

"3,2,1...Frankie Go Boom" a laugh explosion

I always get nervous when I get really excited about a movie. When it finally starts rolling it somehow doesn't live up to my expectations, or my cynicism gets in the way, or something else betrays me and I end up leaving disappointed. I must have knocked on enough wood before seeing "3,2,1...Frankie Go Boom," though, because I'm still laughing over it – and for all the right reasons.

In case you missed me gushing over it in my Milwaukee Film Festival picks or on the brand new movie podcast, "3,2,1...Frankie Go Boom" is about Frank Bartlett (Charlie Hunnam), who's spent his entire life as the unwitting star of his brother Bruce's (Chris O'Dowd) incredibly unflattering viral videos. The embarrassment level has only increased as Frankie's gotten older, and Bruce's latest "masterpiece" – which captures Frank's bumbling one-night stand with the drunk Lassie (Lizzy Caplan) – has somehow become his most popular yet. Fed up with letting Bruce's career path derail his life, Frankie is determined to take this video down.

Chris O'Dowd is just stellar as the bumbling, self-absorbed Hollywood wannabe Bruce. He's not just your average egotistical big brother – he's more like a big brother on crack, except he's clean now, and he's ready to make amends. He might have gotten off the drugs but he's still plenty high on his own narcissism, and it's very clear he hasn't learned his lesson about poking his camera lens where it doesn't belong.

It's his influence that makes Frankie's bad situation worse, alternately guilting and goading him into jumping into a stagnant pool after a pet pig, breaking into an elderly housekeeper's house and more on his mission to squash the sex tape.

It would have been easy to write Frankie as a whiny victim, but "3,2,1...Frankie Go Boom" gives the titular character room to develop as an actual person. He does, after all, have to move on after getting inadvertently subjected to his brother's constant video antics, and he does so realistically and with all the mixed emotions any average, good-hearted person would have to juggle after a lifetime of betrayal from a doofus sibling who actually believes he means well.

There's plenty of appropriate rage and frustration directed at Bruce, but Frankie's stubborn love for his jackass of a brother helps round him out without making him into too much of a pushover.

Really, "Frankie" is a bit of a love story in disguise. Between the crude comedy and absurdly funny gags is a cute little romance between Frankie and Lassie that begins in quirky earnestness after their ill-fated romp. This smart addition is the main reason Frankie doesn't devolve into Droopy Dog territory – believe it or not, there are actually a fair amount of high points in this hour-and-a-half peek into Frankie's oddly unfortunate existence.

Lassie's no stranger to immature relatives herself, and her acceptance of Frankie helps him develop a little perspective while giving the audience a broader view of him as a character.

It's a touching subplot, but that's still all it is. "Frankie" is most definitely a comedy, and that fact is no more apparent than when the brothers pay a visit to Bruce's ex-con friend and hacker Phil, only to discover that Phil's fully remade himself – er, herself – into the very feminine Phyllis. I was worried Ron Perlman wouldn't be able to pass himself off as a successful transsexual – even if he is supposed to be an intentionally bad one – but his role was meted out with a precision that kept the joke from losing steam. "Frankie" doesn't mince around with Phyllis; although it crossed the line at practically every turn, it didn't get tangled up in dwelling in the obvious punchlines.

Phyllis seems almost mundane, though, in the wake of "3,2, 1...Frankie Go Boom"'s constant stream of zany, rapid-fire laugh fodder. It's a mix of verbal, physical and situational comedy that can be a little overwhelming at the outset, but only because it delivers hard and fast right out of the gate and refuses to let up even after the credits start to roll. While it occasionally skirts "too ridiculous" territory, it's a barely noticeable distraction from the rest of this creative and thoroughly laugh-worthy movie.

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